seymour

Series 9 Episode 7: Set The People Free


In which our trio attempt not one, but two great escapes…

Andrew: We’ve talked a little about how Holmfirth is gradually becoming less of a grim place than it was in the show’s early episodes, but the panoramic opening shot that kicks off this episode still offers us a town that is black with soot and capped with a misty haze. Don’t get me wrong, though – I think it looks gorgeous like this. There’s something about those soot-blackened walls that lends Howard’s constant window-washing an air of melancholy. They could be absolutely gleaming, but that house is never going to look ‘clean’. He and Pearl are fighting for house proudness, in a era where that meant something. Also, I don’t want to know what Pearl’s ‘terrible plans’ with an emulsion brush are…

Bob: Is ‘house-proudness’ an actual word? I’ve been staring at it for ten minutes now, and I can’t decide. The only alternative is ‘house-pride’ though, and that just makes me think of Homepride flour. Sorry, am I getting distracted here? You’re right though, Holmfith looks fabulously melancholy and autumnal. I always get a little frisson when the opening shot of an episode is something other than the main trio pottering the countryside; it feels like all bets are off! And I’ve got a bonus frisson from knowing that we’ve actually been on Clegg and Howard’s balcony ourselves! Oh, and whatever Pearl is planning to emulsion, I hope she’s primed it first.

Andrew: You’d better get used to Howard asking for help in getting out of the house – we’ve got over twenty years of it to come!

Bob: It won’t take us twenty years to watch it all, though. No way! At our current rate of progress, it’ll be more like thirty. There’s a tremendous bit of textbook Roy Clarke here, too:

Clegg: What are you using on your windows, Howard?
Howard: The best years of my life…

I also like Howard’s claim that he’s practising his ‘double handed death grip’ on Clegg. ‘Death grips’ were everywhere when I was a kid! I spent most of my 1980s lunchtimes try to perfect (or avoid) them in the school playground. They normally involved a nasty pinch on the side of the neck, and were often accompanied by some kind of mystical Eastern mumbo-jumbo, shouted at a volume not quite loud enough to attract the attention of Mrs Gallon, our most feared, yellow-overalled dinnernanny. I blame The Karate Kid. Or possibly Mr Spock.

Andrew: I think we’ve mentioned this before, but Jonathan Linsley is a very good background actor. Just look at the concentration on Crusher’s face as he carefully dries one fork with a dishcloth.

Bob: He’s terrific! It’s the sequel to his open-mouthed window-wiping in the previous episode. And good grief, our heroes are eating BEANS-ON-TOAST in the cafe! When did that ever happen before? Ivy is normally lucky to flog them three cups of tea, so an actual hot meal is the Summer Wine equivalent of dining at the Savoy! Are we seeing Seymour’s influence here? Although he always strikes me as the kind of penniless toff who would happily tuck into a table laden with slap-up posh nosh before tapping his pockets in mock surprise and saying ‘I’m terribly sorry, old boy… I seem to have left my wallet at the Garrick…’

I can’t help but notice that the cafe has a list of Huddersfield Town fixtures on the wall, too. If we’re assuming they’re for the 1986/87 season, then it wasn’t a vintage campaign for the Terriers. They spent the entire season at the bottom of the old Division 2, and their manager Mick Buxton was sacked about six weeks before this episode was broadcast. They only escaped relegation by three points, and ultimately went down the following season. I know some people have no interest in such sporting frivoloties, and prefer to concentrate on the important implications of Pearl’s ambitions with an emulsion brush, but this nonsense genuinely gives these episodes a social and historical context for me! Although, on the downside, I’ve had to think about Duncan Shearer.

Andrew: There’s an odd directorial quirk that crops up when Crusher foolishly asks Seymour about ‘man’s superior intellect’. Last of the Summer Wine, at this stage, is still predominantly a studio-based sitcom, shot in front of a live audience. Traditionally, this means that each scene is shot in quite a theatrical style. There are three walls to each set, with the fourth wall removed to allow both the cameras and the live audience to see what’s going on. When Seymour turns to Crusher, however, that fourth wall is either back in, or they have cheated in such a way as to make it look like it is. Either way, Seymour’s closeup has to have been filmed separately and edited in later, or else we would have seen a hulking great BBC video camera in the middle of the previous shot. This wouldn’t be at all unusual for a film-based series, but for an old-school sitcom it is rather jarring – to me at least. Once again, I think Bell is showing his true colours.

Bob: As a film director, you mean? This is why I need you here… I honestly wouldn’t have noticed that in a million years. Although thankyou for distracting me from thoughts of Duncan Shearer.

Andrew: ‘Apathy Birthday To You’ might be my favourite Compo moment in a long while. It’s so silly and fun and underlines that fact that Bill Owen has now brought the character into full-on pixie mode. Compo at the start of the series might be someone you’d cross the street to avoid, but he’s such a delight not you’d run to him.

Bob: That made me laugh out loud, too! I know Roy Clarke told us (CLANG!) that he saw the main trio as elderly children from the very start of the series, but Compo has certainly become more childish as the years have rolled by. I guess, in the early years, he was a like lazy, sulky teenager with an air of danger… whereas now he’s an absolutely loveable eight-year-old.

Andrew: ‘Love is always a clean shirt’ is such a beautiful, yet thoroughly depressing phrase, isn’t it?

Bob: I made a note of that, too. There’s a real sadness to it, and to Peter Sallis’ immaculate delivery. He’s half-missing his late wife, but also half-mourning the fact that his marriage seems to have been barely more than a state of convenient domesticity for them both. It’s been fifteen years since she died, and Clegg is still only in his mid-fifties, but he’s never shown the slightest interest in finding another relationship.

Seymour, however, is positively pining. ‘If only I’d met Marjorie earlier…’ he muses. Is this the first time she’s been mentioned? Compo and Clegg don’t seem to be aware of her existence. In my fevered imagination, Marjorie is genuinely Seymour’s soulmate… a woman that he met and fell in love with only after she got married to some less-deserving pillock. But Seymour was married as well, wasn’t he? He’s moping about his ex-wife when we first meet him, in Uncle of the Bride. Having lost out on Marjorie, did he reluctantly marry another woman who, despite her best efforts, didn’t make his heart quicken in quite the same way? No wonder his wife left him. There’s such sadness in all of these backstories.

Andrew: Shop front update! The business at the end of Nora and Compo’s road is still G.W. Castle Ltd. As you were.

Bob: If you’re not careful, you’ll gain us a reputation as some kind of pathetic obsessives. And aw… just as Howard is imprisoned by Pearl, Wally is kept in captive domesticity by Nora. And she’s getting ready to wield her emulsion brush, too! What’s going on here? Have G.W. Castle Ltd been flogging off a job lot of cheap paint? Joe Gladwin is a deadpan delight, as ever. ‘It’s just one giddy sensation after another…’

And so Compo, Clegg and Seymour make it their mission to spring Howard and Wally from their domestic bondage. And I bet that’s something you can’t buy from G.W. Castle Ltd.

Andrew: The old pram wheel that our trio find in the river has endless possibilities. How did it get there? I bet Clarke could get an entire episode out of that back story.

Bob: Never mind that, what about Clegg’s description – ‘maybe it’s a primitive form of contraception’?! That’s the kind of ribald musing that we haven’t heard in Summer Wine for a little while! Very topical, though… 1987 was arguably the height of the media’s coverage of the dangers of AIDS, and it was suddenly perfectly commonplace to hear talk of ‘condoms’ in all kinds of unexpected places. I’d go as far to say that ‘Safe Sex’ was arguably the phrase of 1987, even amongst Huddersfield Town fans.

Andrew: Oh, no! There’s another one of those horrible video-mixer clock-wipe thingies – this time accompanied by a musical cue just to draw further attention to it. I hope this isn’t a lasting trend; this is Summer Wine not Star Wars!

Bob: Ha! Ha! I thought of Star Wars as well! In case nobody has a bleedin’ clue what we’re talking about, the changeover from one scene to another is achieved with the picture changing in a sweeping motion like the hands of a clock whistling around… George Lucas was absolutely obsessed with using them in his early films, but it does seem oddly incongrous here. Mind you, some of Harrison Ford’s recent aeroplane prangs have a hint of Last of the Summer Wine about them. Was that plane he crashed into a golf course designed to look like a giant ferret?

Andrew: Argh, I’ve jinxed it! Another one of those accursed clock wipes! I’d be fascinated to see if these are in the scripts or a result of having to trim material for time.

Bob: They were put there thirty years ago specifically to annoy YOU. Alan Bell plays a LONG GAME.

In a lovely bit of continuity, Seymour still has the ‘Codfanglers’ voice identification gizmo on his front door, but blimey… he’s now changed the password to ‘Marjorie’! He’s really got it bad! Again, in my fevered imagination, he’s done that in the hope that Marjorie will one day turn up at the house with a hastily-packed bag… and be able to guess that the password has been set in her honour. I absolutely love these little, unexplained titbits of backstory that we’re given, a tiny hint at a time.

Andrew: The cast are really playing to the audience this week, but I mean that in the best possible sense – particularly in this scene. Peter Sallis is the one who really stands out. He’s usually very restrained and subtle, but just look at the synchronized bits of physical business he’s got going on with Bill Owen here. There must have been something in the water.

Bob: Just pram wheels and contraceptives. But yes – they’re on fire this week! I’m thoroughly enjoying this… all of the regulars are playing it with gusto, and there’s some cracking dialogue, too. Sallis has got the lions’ share of it this week… I loved Clegg’s memories of living ‘in a hothouse of tension and damp carpets… it was like Tennessee Williams.’

Andrew: Another of the ways in which Seymour differs from Foggy is the lack of engagement on his part. He’s just as likely to ignore Compo and power ahead with a train of thought than to directly engage with him. Is it niceness or apathy (birthday)? Whatever the answer, he still gets his way.

Bob: In my capacity as this blog’s official CLASS WARRIOR, I’ll speculate that it’s a terrible sense of upper-middle-class entitlement. Seymour is a professional man, with breeding, don’t you know! He doesn’t need the permission of working class commoners like Compo before he forges ahead with his crackpot schemes. Although, funnily enough, I’ve also written ‘Is Seymour too nice?’ in my notes. Despite his railroading of the ‘lower orders’, he doesn’t have the brusqueness and impatience of Blamire and Foggy. I bet he’d actually be lovely, genial company over a few drinks.

Andrew: The trio head back to Clegg’s house and mull over Howard’s fate. There’s a lot of filmed material in this episode, isn’t there? And ambitiously filmed material too – not just workmanlike long-shot, mid-shot, close-up work, but thoughtfully constructed sequences. I can’t quite get my mind around the sheer number of setups that Bell appears to have been able to get through in what must have been a matter of hours for each location. The crew must have been really well drilled.

Bob: Again, you’re a born film director. My main observation at this stage was that Compo steals a bottle of milk from Clegg’s doorstep on the way into the house, suggesting that Clegg has the tardiest milkman in the West Riding! They’ve been out all day, so this must be late in the afternoon! Oooh, I bet it was on the turn…

Andrew: Pearl assaults Seymour with an emulsion brush – making this deadly implement a running theme of the episode. I wonder what horrible thing happened to Roy Clarke to give him this post-traumatic flash of inspiration? And Clegg uses a vignette between a husband and his ‘bossy’ wife in the pub as an example of the evolution of the Yorkshire housewife, but I can’t be the only one who feels her request that he not drink and drive isn’t completely unreasonable!

Bob: Oh, I love that scene. ‘He’ll have a small beer…’ she snaps, and there’s no arguing. It’s a little mini-rumination on the miseries of loveless marriage, and – yet again – Clegg has the killer lines. ‘Years of exposure to treacle pudding forges formidable wives…’ he muses, with a wince. Good grief, you can virtually taste the comfortable drudgery of Clegg’s married life from these tiny revelations. Treacle puddings, damp carpets, pent-up tension… and clean shirts. The combination of repressed, domestic duty with the reassurance of steady – but dreary – home life. Oh god, it’s brilliant. I bet they never went out.

Andrew: We’re treated to even more classy location work, as the trio travel to Pearl and Howard’s house in Wesley’s van. They’ve even gone to the trouble of mounting cameras down the sides of the vehicle to lend the stunt work a real bit of dynamism. This is definitely the most ambitiously directed-episode to date. And is the track playing on Wesley’s car radio the same one we’ve heard in previous episodes? I think it is. He must be a real admirer of BBC Stock Rock Music #446/H37.

Bob: That’s my favourite heavy rock song of all time. But yes! I think the same track was used every time a BBC sitcom featured a ‘punk rocker’. I haven’t checked, but I’d put money on the same track being used in the episode of Terry and June where June decides to ‘get with it’ and slouches into the front room in leathers, safety pins and spiked, peroxide hair. And no… I’m not making this up.

Andrew: I promise that I’ll stop banging on about the direction after this, but in the sequence where our trio attempt to jailbreak Wally from the clutches of Nora, I counted 32 distinct shot set-ups, some of which involve camera cranes, stuntmen, and handheld shots in a rubber dinghy. Between each of these setups the crew needs time to reset, check the gate, occasionally change the magazine, make sure the sound is fine, and ensure that Joe Gladwin hasn’t drowned. This is a BBC sitcom, for God’s sake – not The Great Escape! Then again, maybe that’s the allusion that got Alan Bell fired up this week. The only thing that slightly spoiled the sequence for me was the fact that Stuart Fell (I assume), doubling for Compo as he leads Nora away, stood out so much that I assumed the use of a doppelganger was part of the plot, and was left scratching my head a bit when it wasn’t followed up on!

Bob: Again, I didn’t notice! Honestly, I was absolutely swept up in the closing sequences of this episode… in attempting to spring Howard from the miseries of domestic slavery, our heroes are beaten back by Pearl (who lets loose with a ‘What the blood and stomach pills…?’ line stolen directly from Ivy! Does that phrase occur anywhere else but in the scripts to Last of the Summer Wine?); but they distract Nora Batty for long enough to coax Wally down their ladder and into the waiting dinghy that you mention. I remember watching this scene back in 1987, and feeling a wave of genuine love for Joe Gladwin even then, because he’s clearly rather frail in these location scenes… the bloke had turned eighty, and you can see it in his movements, being gently helped into the boat. Even as a teenager, I just wanted to give him a huge (but careful) hug.

And, 31 years later, all of those feelings have returned… and then some. We’re reaching the end of Joe’s fourteen years in Summer Wine, and I’m so saddened by that. He’s been such a highlight of the show, and when you see him acting on the small screen, you see 70 years of experience in Music Hall and variety theatre seeping out of every performance. And you also see a wonderful little man, who – over 100 years after he was born – is still thrilling the socks off two grotty little herberts like us. The final scene of this episode, with Joe laughing his head off in that rotating rubber dinghy, is just joyous. Glorious. I really want to do more to help celebrate his life and work. And I still want to give him a huge (but careful) hug.

Andrew: What a great episode. The ambition of a feature film within thirty minutes of sitcom, all underpinned by a fantastically tight script and some truly joyous performances. One of the best.

Bob: Nail on head. That was wonderful.

Return To 'Uncle of the Bride'

‘Uncle of the Bride’ represents such a turning point in Last of the Summer Wine’s history, we felt it was only proper to take another trip down to Holmfirth to document its many locations. Three trips and almost two years later, we finally cobbled together a location report!